Third Point lays out case for Disney to spin off ESPN
Third Point’s Dan Loeb has sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek to outline recommendations.
Third Point said, “ESPN is a great business that currently generates significant free cash flow, enabling the Company to pay down debt and increase strategic options down the line.
In addition, we realize ESPN content is part of the bundle being offered to subscribers of other products, both in Disney’s Linear and DTC businesses.
Despite these advantages, we believe that a strong case can be made that the ESPN business should be spun off to shareholders with an appropriate debt load that will alleviate leverage at the parent Company.
The important questions to ask before commencing a spinoff are: Will both companies be better off? Will the needs of customers be better served? Can any synergies that exist between the two companies be replicated by contractual arrangements? Will the transaction contribute to creating long-term value for Disney shareholders?
While acknowledging that broader capital structure considerations may be at issue, we believe that the answer to all four of these questions is affirmative.
Employees of ESPN could be compensated in a security directly tied to their performance.
ESPN would have greater flexibility to pursue business initiatives that may be more difficult as part of Disney, such as sports betting.
Customers of ESPN and sports leagues would be better served by a focused management team driving a leadership position in sports distribution. We believe that most arrangements between the two companies can be replicated contractually, in the way eBay spun PayPal while continuing to utilize the product to process payments.
Lastly, as a result of this transaction, both companies will attract shareholders seeking the respective qualities of each company, allowing the Disney parent multiple to expand as its earnings growth rate increases and the remaining business is no longer haunted by the specter of cord cutting. While I understand you have considered this idea in the past, we urge the Company to retain advisors to reassess the desirability of the transaction in the current environment, recognizing that a key determination would be the proforma capitalizations, cashflow and credit profile of both companies.”
Third Point said, “We believe that integrating Hulu directly into the Disney+ DTC platform will provide significant cost and revenue synergies, ultimately reigniting growth in the domestic market.
We urge the Company to make every attempt to acquire Comcast’s remaining minority stake prior to the contractual deadline in early 2024.
We believe that it would even be prudent for Disney to pay a modest premium to accelerate the integration but are cognizant that the seller may have an unreasonable price expectation at this time while noting the seller has already made the decision to prematurely remove their own content from the platform. We know this is a priority for you and hope there is a deal to be had before Comcast is contractually obligated to do so in about 18 months.”
Third Point said, “Disney’s costs are among the highest in the industry, and we believe Disney significantly underearns relative to its potential. We urge the Company to embark on a cost cutting program that addresses both margins and the disposal of excess underperforming assets.”
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